MAJOR MALFUNCTION, PART FIVE
Cavalry scouts with 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, maneuver toward cover after an air assault during Platinum Lion 19 at Novo Selo Training Area, July 9, 2019. 
July 17, 2020
PROPOSED METHODS FOR MANAGING THE MADNESS
This “Major Malfunction” piece is comprised of several parts. It’s main purpose is to take another look at the problem of training management and organizational effectiveness in the Army. I’ll examine the issue from multiple perspectives—from statistical analysis, anecdotal story-telling, personal observations, and existing academic publications. Let me qualify all of this by very clearly acknowledging the limitations of my perspective and experience. This is simply what I’ve observed through my humble lens and I have enough intellectual humility to know there’s a lot that’s beyond my understanding and areas where I’m just plain wrong. I’ve worked with and for leaders that fall on every part of the spectrum and this isn’t an attack on a particular echelon or rank. Dealing with a problem with such a large scope requires starting and maintaining the dialogue at every level for multi-echelon and interdisciplinary input, actionable change, and comprehensive feedback. It’s not something that is going to go away anytime soon. So please keep that in mind before you fire for effect! Thanks for visiting–I hope you’ll stick around for its entirety!
So, what’s the solution? I don’t think this is the type of problem you can truly “solve,” but I can tell you what I’ve tried to do within my personal sphere of influence to manage the problem.
Chances are, many of the ideas I’m going to mention here are things you’re already doing or have already thought of or heard from someone else. Sometimes it’s just nice to have your ideas validated, reinforced, and know you’re not alone. And who knows, some of this may actually cause you to look at a particular scenario with a different perspective or you may come away with a new idea of how to approach some of these situations. I’m definitely not claiming to have done any of these things well, or at all, really. But they’re ideas I’ve genuinely thought about a lot, things I wish I had done better, and ultimately, ways in which you might consider trying to effect change at your level. Thanks for reading, and while I’m not with you all navigating PowerPoint or last-minute taskings, I know and understand how incredibly demoralizing and frustrating all of this can be. This one is fairly lengthy, but I wanted to provide as much detail as possible as I finish off this five-part piece.
SOME THINGS TO CONSIDER FOR YOURSELF AND YOUR UNIT…
- Relentlessly enforce the prescribed training calendar “lock-in” time horizon at your respective echelon–whether that’s the six-week window if you’re in a company, or 120 days out if you’re at the corps level. If one doesn’t exist, enforce it for yourself and encourage your colleagues to do the same. Start a dialogue to try and address the issue within your respective organization with a policy or system and an enforcement mechanism. And if that’s not possible, just set an example with your personal actions. There are going to be so many last-minute tasks so your ability to be flexible and react is also inherently valuable, but there has to be a balance. That’s the part I think we tend to forget. Just because we CAN jump out of our asses to “make it happen,” that doesn’t mean we SHOULD. Emphasize planning and predictability in your AARs, training briefs to the S3 or battalion or brigade commanders, and anywhere where planning horizons are discussed. Make sure you try to hold yourself and your organization accountable as much as possible (8-step training model, reporting requirements, product suspenses, etc), because you lose credibility if you yourself are always late but you’re simultaneously complaining about how the battalion and brigade are always late.
- If civilian organizations ask for military support or want to collaborate for an event, and they request the support with short notice, particularly within the six week window, the answer (in most cases) simply has to be no. Just negotiate to reschedule the event! Or if it’s a parade or other event that can’t be rescheduled…well, it’s probably an annual event and someone should have probably put it on the long-range calendar. If it’s a low-commitment task that won’t impact a large number of people and there are volunteers who are interested, then sure, consider supporting the event. But if it’s going to impact your training or soldiers in any meaningful way, take a stand. Set conditions for that particular civilian organization to collaborate sooner in the planning process for next time. In some cases, that will work just fine. We constantly subject ourselves to unnecessary pressure to say yes. Absolutely no one is going to actually die if your unit doesn’t provide soldiers to walk in the annual Park County Springfest Parade. For some reason some people really find that hard to believe.
- Reclama tasks and orders published within an unrealistic timeline. Choose your battles, but at least initiate a dialogue instead of just saying yes and thinking about how you only have to put up with this circus for three more months until you PCS. The soldiers who are actually executing the mission will potentially be in the unit for three times as long as you and will have no reprieve. With some leaders who are toxic, self-serving, or delusional, reclama-ing *everything* within the six-week window could very well make your life miserable. Although I don’t think it would necessarily get you fired, it would certainly get your name placed on a shit list. So if you mess anything up (which all leaders/people/commanders do), it would increase the probability of you getting relieved because people already dislike you and would just need an excuse to get rid of you. So just be mindful of that and practice discretion. Sure, you can go hard and reclama anything and everything, but that’s going to burn bridges, reduce your credibility and people’s desire to work with you, and ultimately degrade your ability to negotiate on issues that really matter. I’m not saying to play politics, I’m saying you should try to be smart for the sake of those around you. If you act like a cowboy and get yourself fired, you will have effectively lost your ability to influence anything or help anyone in that particular organization ever again. This is definitely more art than science and I’ve screwed it up plenty. As I alluded to before, you’ll always hear people say, “pick your battles,” which I tried to do. But when I received a lot of heat for my organization being late on tasks, I felt I should turn up the heat on my resistance to taskings within the six-week window. Sometimes, I handled things in ways that simply weren’t appropriate or productive, like openly disrespecting my company commander in front of his bosses; replying to all on brigade-wide OPORD emails about brigade six-week window violations; making phone calls to people way outside of my chain of command to try to influence a situation; or submitting anonymous ICE complaints about my unit knowing it would go straight to the garrison commander. I was never asking for *easier* circumstances—I was simply asking for the predictability that’s already mandated by Army regulation but conveniently only enforced at the company level. All of this can become exceedingly frustrating, but just remember there are ways you should go about trying to influence things and there are ways you probably shouldn’t.
- Don’t get short-timer’s syndrome. For the love of God, this is literally the attitude that perpetuates the unpredictability. “I only have to make it for two more months and then I PCS.” So instead of attempting to actually address this predicament (which requires more effort and probably some discomfort) it’s easier to simply comply with the institutionally acceptable perspective, “embrace the suck,” and wait out your time, and then bail as soon as possible. I really believe this kind of thinking is wrong. We’re all human and will make mistakes and have bad days, but this perspective simply has to stop. I’ve been there and there have been days where I have 100% said f*$k it, I don’t care anymore. But I’ve quickly realized that a perspective like that will not solve anything. Don’t give up because it’s easy. Don’t offload a disaster onto the incoming dude taking over for you. Don’t give your replacement a garbage handover because that’s what you received. Don’t resign and give in to the norm. Don’t go with the flow. Don’t be an asshole and stop caring just like the leaders you despise have done to you. You must have balance in your life to hold onto your sanity, sure, but do your best to not be a hypocrite and perpetuate the very thing that has disillusioned you.
- Identify methods to give soldiers REAL predictability when possible and do your best to explain the “why” aka the commander’s intent when you have the time. Maintain a calendar. It’s 2020. The technology exists. Everyone has cell phones. Find a way to communicate the schedule and make it available to everyone. It sure as hell isn’t the DTMS calendar–which we all know is absolute trash. Plan your training. Plan for your training to get cancelled or degraded. Control what you can control (which isn’t always a lot, but do what you can, damn it!) And really, from the company level, focus on preventing internal tasking fratricide. Don’t do the same thing to the platoons and squads that the brigade and battalion do to the companies, and that the division and corps do to the brigades and battalions. Really emphasize this, message it often, and try to get your commander to also buy into it if she or he hasn’t already.
- Learn to negotiate and generate options for the decision-makers. I wasn’t the best at this. Always come back to the table prepared to articulate the “if /then.” So let’s say your company receives a tasking within the six-week window. You already created all of these plans based on previous guidance. You’re now told to do something completely different. Don’t just say, “Roger ma’am.” Instead, consider saying, “Roger ma’am, let me go do some analysis get back to you.” Come back to the table with the potential risks the decision-maker (usually company commander or battalion commander) may have to take, and the options you can generate for him or her to still meet their intent. The conversation might look something like this: Ma’am…you just told me you want me to do this thing. If I do this thing, I can’t do these other things you also told me you wanted me to do. If you want me to do all of these things, then the quality of everything is will be degraded in the following ways. But here’s what I think the results would look like in all of the possible scenarios, here’s which scenario I recommend, and here’s why. Please provide me with your guidance. At the end of the day she can obviously tell you to get bent, shut up, and color. But at least you tried and you can sleep at night knowing you didn’t blindly agree to sign your unit up for yet another unforecasted tasking that suddenly appeared due to someone else’s incompetence or oversight. Continue this pattern long enough, and convince your colleagues to as well, and it just might begin to work. I would include reclama-ing one or more of the taskings as an option if you think it’s appropriate and makes sense. Something to keep in mind is, in most cases, we (company level leaders) often don’t understand what’s going on at higher levels. So something may be very, very important but we don’t realize it because our perspective is limited. But…there are indisputably many instances where the unpredictability is simply a result of incompetence, laziness, oversight, or misjudgment. And there are many instances where the unpredictability isn’t a result of any of those. Regardless, be cognizant of your disposition, and do your best to come from a place of humility. None of us know everything and it’s very easy to get frustrated dealing with some of these situations (which is completely understandable and justified), but you’re much more likely to maintain your credibility and make an impact if you remain respectful. No one wants to listen to a toddler throwing a tantrum and if you march up to your boss’s office with guns blazing, you won’t be having a discussion–it will immediately devolve into a debate or a one-way conversation, you will lose your ability to negotiate, and it’s likely that there won’t be any resolution.
- Be positive and surround yourself with people who radiate positive energy and make you laugh. Encourage the people around you. You’re all in the same boat. Help one another! Spread your perspective and do your best to build grassroots movements. There is strength in numbers, so don’t underestimate what a group of people can accomplish. The only reason I survived my time as a platoon leader, executive officer, staff officer, and company commander is because of the people I worked with. We would get together in one of the offices or huddle around someone’s desk and vent, laugh, offer ideas and suggestions, commiserate, make jokes, and share products and experiences to help each other. You won’t make it alone, that’s for sure. And if you think you will, well, you’re in for a shock. Everyone needs to vent sometimes, and you might find that constitutes a pretty significant portion of your conversations with your friends. Just do your best to not fall into a rut of negativity, constant complaining, and darkness. That’s not healthy for anyone, it won’t change anything, and it will reduce your ability to be effective as a leader.
Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team conduct mounted machine gunnery, troop leading procedures for platoon attack and mortar live fire July 19, 2019. 
FROM THE ARMY EXECUTIVE LEADER LEVEL, THIS IS WHAT I’D SAY MIGHT HELP:
- Collect feedback from the user level and analysis on systems like DTMS, CRRD, GCSS-A, etc. What are the problems and inefficiencies with the systems and what can be done to fix them? Are the systems working and fulfilling their intended purpose? Should some of these systems be completely overhauled? Or done away with all together? An example: I have consistently heard senior leaders say one of the primary reasons we enter our training calendars into DTMS is so general officers can quickly access units’ training schedules, plan for training visits, and also hold leaders accountable for actually executing what’s on their calendar. First, I have never seen that happen and have never heard of it happening. At one point, I worked as an aide-de-camp for a general officer, and so I was the one coordinating training visits. I can tell you that I never looked at anyone’s DTMS calendars. I simply got on the phone with subordinate units and asked if there was any training they would like the general to visit. Obviously, that’s just my individual experience–there very well may be general officers who use DTMS. But I would venture to say that at least 95% don’t have any interest (or the time to) in logging in to the good ole DTMS to look at our calendars. So, if they don’t provide utility to soldiers and leaders, and they don’t provide utility to general officers (literally the singular argument I’ve heard for why we should keep DTMS calendars), then…what purpose are they serving? Just sayin’. Furthermore, if the ONE reason we continue to use a particular system that requires hundreds of thousands of cumulative man hours to maintain is so a very small population (general officers) can use it, I would say we are a bit off on our priorities. And I think most general officers would agree.
- Continue with SECDEF Mark Esper’s overhaul of training and administrative requirements–work to finish what he started. Streamline requirements and eliminate inefficiencies at all levels and monitor implementation and continuously collect feedback. This was definitely encouraging to see, and from my humble perspective, seemed to be movement in the right direction. It just doesn’t seem like his initiative made it down to the company level in all cases and needs to be reinvigorated and pushed through to completion. And honestly, at the rate we add new policies, systems, and reporting requirements, there should probably be some iterative review of all of those things to determine their utility and effectiveness specifically through the lens of reducing requirements and increasing lethality. Thanks again for at least trying, Dr. Esper…
- Use further research to determine why the orders publication process is so inefficient. What are the primary contributing factors to the untimely publication of orders? This is absolutely essential and necessary for any long-range planning to occur. So what’s the core issue? Personnel shortages? Knowledge management? Information dissemination systems? Lack of position longevity or continuity? Lack of monitoring or enforcement mechanisms? Lack of staff accountability? The over-complication of the orders process and immense amount of potentially unnecessary information? The base OPORD for Operation Overlord is five pages long.  Most base OPORDs I’ve seen for joint bilateral exercises are at least 50 pages long. Wow. Think about that one for a second. As an organization, we really need to figure these things out. Some of the information I used for this blog post came from an IG study. From what I’ve observed, the IG is an appropriate office to have a look at some of these issues, collect quantitative data and qualitative anecdotal feedback, and then make recommendations to decision-makers. The problem I saw this this particular IG study was that the general officer decision-maker was not responsive to some of the more controversial problems that the study identified–such as the connection between behavioral / mental health issues and organizational unpredictability.
- Consider modifying/extending the timeline for organizational leaders. This is a big one, and it’s so incredibly complicated, but as I asserted in Major Malfunction: Part Three, leader personnel turnover exacerbates organizational unpredictability. So I won’t belabor the point here–just go have a look at Part Three. I seriously doubt anyone would ever remotely consider this, but I also thought that would be the case with the removal of DA photos for promotions and nominative positions as I wrote about in 2016 in Diversity: At What Cost, but here we are in 2020 and the policy has changed! So I’m going to continue to share my thoughts even if I sound crazy.
Paratroopers assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade perform an airborne proficiency jump over Bunker Drop Zone in Grafenwoehr Training Area, Aug. 14, 2019. 
To substantially reduce the time burden on company leaders, the Army will need to implement a variety of time management strategies concurrently, systematically, and consistently.” 
That’s all she wrote. Thank you for reading. My aim here is to continue the dialogue, because the more we talk about this, the more people will become encouraged to work within their personal spheres of influence to address the problem.
 Cavalry scouts with 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, maneuver toward cover after an air assault during Platinum Lion 19 at Novo Selo Training Area, July 9, 2019. https://api.army.mil/e2 /c/images/2019/07/23/559781/original.jpg.
 “Do not go gentle into that good night.” Dylan Thomas. 1947.
 Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team conduct mounted machine gunnery, troop leading procedures for platoon attack and mortar live fire July 19, 2019. https://www.army.mil/leaders/csa/photos/.
 “Operation Overlord, Operation Order.” Ike Skelton Combined Arms Research Digital Library. http://cgsc.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/ref/ collection/p4013coll8/id/1216.
 Paratroopers assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade perform an airborne proficiency jump over Bunker Drop Zone in Grafenwoehr Training Area, Aug. 14, 2019. https://api.army.mil/e2/c/images/2019/08/30/563307/ original.jpg
 Saum-Manning, Lisa, Tracy C. Krueger, Matthew W. Lewis, Erin N. Leidy, Tetsuhiro Yamada, Rick Eden, Andrew Lewis, Ada L. Cotto, Ryan Haberman, Robert Dion, Jr., Stacy L. Moore, Michael Shurkin, Michael Lerario. “Reducing the Time Burden of Army Company Leaders,” RAND Corporation. 2019. https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/ RR2979.html. Page 64.